What Feminism Means to Us
Compiled by Eunice Park and Charlotte Kramon
Feminism is defined as “the advocacy of women’s rights on the basis of equality of the sexes.” This seems to be a fairly straightforward definition, yet the word “feminist” continues to cause so much controversy today. Although the basic idea of feminism is equality of the sexes, applying this belief in real world has been complicated, therefore causing many to misinterpret feminism.
One issue many people have with modern feminism is the lack of representation of male issues. For example, it is true that more than one third of sexual violence victims are male, yet most media coverage centers on a male perpetrator, female victim dynamic. The same stereotype is prevalent in discussions of domestic violence. However, talking about the struggles of one group does not in any way invalidate the struggles of another. Feminism is simply acknowledging that there has been systematic and cultural sexism against women that continues to exist today. Just because you publicize a story of a woman who suffered under inadequate sexual assault policies, does not mean you only believe that women can be raped. Likewise, just because you choose to highlight a story of a woman who is a domestic violence survivor, does not mean you are invalidating men who have suffered the same terrible actions.
Whereas many people complain about the lack of representation of certain issues, many people criticize modern feminism for focusing too much on certain issues. Tomi Lahren, political talk show host, states “ I don’t consider myself a victim, I don’t march for insignificant problems masqueraded as women’s rights while women in less fortunate parts of the world wake up without human rights.” Although it is true that women in first world countries do not experience disparities in education, social norms, and legal protection to the same level as women in third world countries, women all around the globe face valid problems. Technically, women are “guaranteed” the same legal rights as men in the US, yet women face numerous obstacles and biases that prevent the fulfillment of this guarantee. Often times, these problems cannot be numerically calculated, as it is impossible to put a clear number on the emotional effect of the lack of strong female characters in media or the culture of normalized sexual harassment. Even if feminist issues in the US and other first world countries are not as tangible as those that can easily be represented in the statistics of third world countries, all issues are very much real.
In addition, it is important to note that feminism helps everyone- all sexes included. Harmful gender roles that dictate what women should or should not do, also limit opportunities for men to express themselves. Feminism combats hypermasculinity, by disabling gender roles to give everyone the freedom to make choices. A female should have the choice to pursue traditionally “masculine” career fields as a scientist or politician, just as how a male should feel free to pursue traditionally “feminine” career fields in beauty and caregiving. And although certain feminist issues such as birth control and girl’s education are specific to females, all issues improve the general welfare of society. For example, the Organization for Economic and Co-Operation Development estimates that every dollar spent on birth control, saves $1.41 in medical costs. Additionally, March 2010 United Nations statement described how the key to combating global poverty is through empowering girl’s education, with every dollar invested in girl’s education contributing at least $5 in the economy.
But I would be lying if I said that I didn’t struggle with feminism myself. I’ve always easily called myself a “feminist”, but the real challenge has always been feminism’s application to my daily life. I love countless rap and hip hop songs despite their misogynistic lyrics, and I often apply makeup in an attempt to mold myself into idealized ( and unachievable) beauty standards. Am I feminist, if… is the beginning of a question I often ask myself before doing something. Yet the calculations of what is feminist enough are endless and frankly, pointless, and what I’ve come to terms with as the real life application of feminism is simply: choice.
Feminism is about choices. As it is based on the fundamental belief of equality of the sexes, all sexes should have the choice to express themselves and pursue opportunities without limitations caused by their specific sex. Women should have the choice to regulate their own bodies, whether that means having access to safe abortion clinics or not undergoing an abortion. Teenage girls should have the choice to participate in STEM subjects without prejudice, either blind or intentional, that creates unequal opportunity. Women should have the choice to wear whatever they please, without fear that their bodies would be seen as invitations for sexual assault.
I am a feminist because I believe all sexes should have the choice to express themselves and pursue any opportunity regardless of their specific sex.
Matilda (John Marshall High School)
I agree that a lot of the mainstream 'feminism' movement is problematic, such as the common cissexist slogans used at the women's march which equated womanhood to having a uterus or vagina. The literal definition of feminism is the belief that people of all genders should be equal socially, politically, and economically. If you believe that, you are a feminist, at least in my book. Anyone who claims that women are better than men is a misandrist. Anyone who tries to dismiss or belittle the struggles of men, such as the pressures to conform to hypermasculinity, is just wrong. These are real issues and they absolutely need to be addressed. However, these are all feminist issues by definition as they deal with the inequalities of people based on gender. True intersectional feminism should be representative of this, and we need to work together to raise awareness about these issues and challenge the stigma. But just because you disagree with the most common connotation of the word is no reason to dismiss the movement as a whole.
I am going to begin this little response about my belief in feminism by saying that I in no way intend to shut anybody down, and by thanking the people shared their views contradictory to the rest of the feminist-themed articles in our magazine. As a movement, it is essential to not alienate those whose opinion differ from ours. Many experts and liberal politicians are restating that a very prominent and likely reason Trump was elected was because of the alienation of middle America, who felt shut down because of their conservative views. I have really high hopes for feminism. I want the movement to succeed. And in order for any activist movement to succeed, we cannot attempt to silence anybody. Many say that we live in desperate times in which love, kindness, and compromise is not the answer. But when we look at history’s most successful movements, these values have always been the answer. Look at Martin Luther King Jr. By leading a hate-free movement, he brought America quite far in the fight for civil rights.
I understand why there are people who get frustrated with certain modern feminists. I’m not going to deny that there are people out there who aren’t preaching what I believe is the correct message regarding feminism. I get furious when I see man-hating blog posts because that’s not what feminism is about. These examples do not represent the movement as a whole in any way, shape, or form. The notion that feminism as a movement is exclusive is simply wrong. I’ll give an example everyone can understand: Women’s March. For those who didn’t attend, it was not full of whining women complaining about men being evil and stripping all women of all rights. It was full of all genders, including men, coming together on a huge variety of issues concerning the recent election and telling the government what we believe and why. There was nobody complaining about men being evil, or whatever people seem to assume it is we complain about. Men were angry. Women were angry. Everyone was angry. So we channeled that anger into PEACEFUL expression. That’s what feminism should be, and frankly, exactly it usually is. I was at an event today about activism organized by a feminist organization, and I’d say there was a pretty even number of men and women. One of the guest speakers was Kirby Dick, a male who made a film about the reality of sexual assault on campuses and is dedicated to addressing the issues of rape culture and assault. If anyone who claims that feminist as a whole is a “man-hating,” my response is that I understand where this idea comes from, but that it is a factually untrue statement.
To those that say the patriarchy and the wage gap is a myth, I have a few responses. First of all, the wage gap is not a myth regardless of the Equal Pay Act, and I’ll refute this briefly. Just a year out of college, women are already at a 6.6% disadvantage when it comes to pay, and research leads to the conclusion that a big part of this has to do with the anticipation of motherhood. I’d also like to bring up one of the countless stories that prove the wage gap true. I’m not going to go into detail out of respect for her privacy, but I know an incredible woman who is one of the only women as an executive in her field of work and her success is beyond inspiring. However, after moving to a new company and starting a new project with a male partner who she had the exact same position as, (both held the highest executive positions,) she was offered a significantly smaller salary, and the men and women around her admitted immediately that this had to do with the fact that she is a woman. She is in the process of fighting this unequal offer. But the wage gap is a reality.
I was originally drawn to feminism by the speaker and author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Her TEDtalks, especially We Should All Be Feminists, really impacted my thought processes on feminism and sparked my passion for gender equality. I could speak about feminism for countless pages, so I’m going to keep my words brief. First of all, the TEDtalk I just mentioned was distributed to every 16-year-old in Sweden and a lot of the feedback was from males saying how they learned that feminism doesn’t promote male hatred and about how and why males could be feminists. One thing Adichie often feels in her fight for feminism is loneliness. And I feel this sometimes, too. People use the amazing, inspiring success stories of powerful women as excuses to deny the fact that women and femininity are not viewed as equal. Here are just a few simple examples about perception to add onto what I’ve already said.
In schools, boys often see girls who participate in class as annoying or in a negative light. This is a real thing. I know multiple girls who were told by boys that they would be attracted to them if they didn’t speak their mind so much.
Not only does that happen in schools, but it happens in the workforce. Adichie brought up countless examples of women who try to speak up in business meetings and are shut down as their male counterparts say literally exactly the same thing. Overall, it is harder for a business woman to succeed than a man because of unequal perception. And, there are far, far less women CEOs than men.
Why do women feel the need to dress in ugly man-ish suits to be taken seriously? Adichie was talking about how she feels most confident in frilly skirts and lip gloss and heels, but once was afraid of teaching in such attire because she wanted to be taken seriously.
Refer to my interview with Grey’s Anatomy actress Kim Raver. Men’s roles are still of larger numbers and they portray very different characters than women’s roles. Or look at Billboards when you're driving down the street and think about the types of characters that women are playing vs men.
Women are frequently looked at for their bodies and appearances rather than character. This is such a massive problem and so relevant. I talked about this in my article about Hip-hop, but it happens in everyday life as well. Women are catcalled because they’re working out and want to wear leggings.
Then, of course, there’s the inequality with sexual assault and abortion. Look at Trumpcare, which contains so many harmful reforms and messages such as a 6-week paid maternity leave. Some argue that it essentially makes being a woman a pre-existing condition. I’ve been tempted to be less outspoken because of negative responses or for fear of seeming perceived as obnoxious. On an international level, women across the world are denied the right to education and are oppressed in intense ways. I can go on. But the patriarchy still exists. That's why I co-run this magazine and project. I see inequality, and I want to change it. I can go on.
So yes, I’m a passionate feminist. But I want to bring this back to my first few sentences in this article. Matt and Grace have valid opinions, and there are people out there who would unfortunately criticize them in unfair and shameful ways. I ask everyone out there, feminists, activists, liberals, and conservative to respect the other side. I ask everyone to listen and engage but not interrupt or shut anyone down. Don’t call the other side liars. Don’t call the other side names. That will just yield us to more politicians in the vein of Trump. That being said, I also call on both women and men to be aware of the role gender plays in society and work towards improving the way gender is perceived.